10. The Prophetic Section


PATMOS was the place where John wrote this scroll and beheld the visions recorded in it. Seldom, indeed, are we informed where the scrolls of scripture were written, but the place of a vision is usually deemed of importance. Ezekiel was by the river Chebar (1:3) and was transported, in spirit, to Jerusalem (8:3) and Chaldea (11:24), etc. Daniel was once in the palace at Shushan (8:2) though transported in spirit to the river Ulai. At another time he was beside the Hiddekel, or Tigris (10:4).

John saw and wrote the Prophetic section of this book at Patmos. When the throne section commences, however, the first sound which he hears calls him to heaven, where the introductory vision is located (4:1). Later he came away to eat the little scroll (10:9) and to measure the temple of God (11:1), yet seems to resume his place in heaven until the new heaven is created. He never enters there. In the last Prophetic section, he seems to be back at Patmos as at the first. So, for the purposes of interpretation, we are to consider John at Patmos only during the Prophetic sections.

What reason can be assigned for this location? Why was it not revealed to him in Jerusalem? Why not on the mainland, in the center of the ecclesias to whom he writes? There must be a peculiar fitness in this place, whether we are able to discover it or not.

Patmos is a small, rocky island in the Aegean archipelago, off the shores of the province of Asia. Anciently, it was reckoned as one of the Sporades. In medieval times it was called Palmosa, but now Patmos.

The meaning of the names seems to be TREADING. The element Pat occurs thrice in the verb tread: They will be treading the holy city (11:2); The wine trough will be trodden outside the city (14:20); The Rider on the white horse is treading the wine trough (19:15).

Do not all the circumstances suggest that John is sent to Patmos so that His physical environment may correspond to the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel at the time when the vision is fulfilled? What could be a better parable of their isolated, barren state, in the midst of, yet apart from the nations, with hearts at a distance from God, than this rocky islet; surrounded by the sea, far from the holy land and the sacred city.

The tradition that John was banished to the island and imprisoned there probably arose from the phrase "because of the word of God and because of the testimony of Jesus Christ." But it is far more probable that this scroll is the word of God and the testimony because of which he came to be in Patmos. He certainly had liberty to write and was able to send his revelation to the saints.

Whatever value we may attach to the place of the Unveiling, the time element is of prime importance. The interpretation of the whole scroll, and especially the messages to the ecclesias, depends on the right translation and true interpretation of the words, "I came to be, in spirit, in the Lord's day." At the risk of being prolix and redundant, we cannot pass it by without once more enforcing its true translation and interpretation.

The phrase "in the Spirit" should read, as the sublinear shows, without the article, simply "in spirit." The same phrase occurs on three other occasions. These are safe and sure indexes of its meaning here. In each case, the apostle is transported in spirit, to a place or time which his body could not occupy. He thus ascended to heaven and beheld the magnificent throne scene (4:2). He is carried away, in spirit, into a wilderness, to behold the woman on the scarlet wild beast (17:3). He is carried away, in spirit, to a mountain on the new earth to behold the holy city (21:10). In every case John is taken out of himself, leaves His body, and sees and hears what belongs to the far future. "In spirit" is opposed to "in flesh" (Rom.8:9). The sense is that, as John could not be transported into the Lord's day in flesh, his spirit was carried thither in a vision. There is no need to bring in the holy spirit of God as the agent or power by which this was done. We have already been told that all this was signified through His messenger (1:1). Messengers are the agents used in all the transactions of this book. One of the seven messengers who have the seven bowls carried John away, in spirit, to view the woman in the wilderness (17:3) and one of the same carries him away to view the new Jerusalem (21:10).

There is every reason to believe that the same is true here. The voice which he heard was doubtless the voice, of the Messenger Who had carried him in spirit into the Lord's day. In this case, it can be no other than the Chief Messenger, our Lord Himself, for He partakes of the office of messenger, and is their Chief. He has been anointed with the oil of exultation above His fellows (Heb.1:9).

This solves a difficulty connected with that coming for His saints which occurs before the judgment scenes encountered in this scroll can occur. We are looking for Christ not an angel, however exalted his rank may be. It is somewhat disconcerting then, to be told that our Lord shall descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God..." (1 Thess.4:16). If our Lord Himself is coming, why bring with Him an archangel? And who blows the trump of God? Are there three great Personages coming for us? Not so! He will not share this glory with another. He gives the shout of command Himself and His is the voice of the Chief Messenger, and He uses the trumpet of God. He has many glories and not the least of these is His headship over the messengers of God. The phrase should stand, then, in its simplest and most consistent form, not "by the Spirit [of God]," but in [John's] spirit."

This passage is but one example of the difficulties which confront a translator in regard to the capitalization of the word spirit. The capital S indicates the opinion of the translator that the holy spirit of God is intended. It is often difficult to determine whose spirit is in view and it is unwise for any version to so far usurp the function of interpretation as to decide each case. So the Concordant Version always puts the word spirit with a small initial s, and so leaves the matter open to each student to decide for himself.

It is evident, then, that the Messenger like a Son of Mankind transports John, in spirit, into the Lord's day.

But it is objected that, if this were indeed, the day of the Lord spoken of in the prophets, then the usual formula would have been used. Why should it be changed?

There are three points of difference between the phrases "THE DAY OF THE LORD" and "THE LORD'S DAY."

All three conspire to shift the emphasis from "the day of the LORD" to "the Lord's DAY." They unite in turning our thoughts from the character of the day to the time, the event.

And is this not most apt? In the day of the LORD, we are told that man is abased and the Lord alone will be exalted. But when we learn that John has come to be, in spirit, in some "day," we want to know what day? What time? As the thought of time is uppermost, the phrase "the day of the LORD" is modified and readjusted to perform its new duty. These differences, of course, are in the Greek and are but faintly reflected in the English.

The genitive case points back to the source and origin of things: it gives character. The dative case points us forward to the associations of place and time: it locates. "The day of the LORD" puts "Lord" in the genitive, telling us what kind of a day it will be. "The Lord's DAY" puts "Lord's" in the dative, answering the question, When? It is in contrast to man's DAY. The time when man is having his fling.

The first difference, then, changes the direction of our thoughts. What characterized, now locates. John comes to be, in spirit, IN the Lord's DAY. The second difference lies in the rank of the words employed. "Lord" is a name, or noun: "Lord's" is (or should be if it were possible in English) a descriptive term or adjective. The Spirit very often changes an adjective into a noun in order to emphasize it. "Mighty men" are called "men of might." We almost forgot that they are men in the thought of their might. This cannot always be reproduced in English. "Of the glory of the grace" (Eph.1:6) is not easily followed by our modern minds. "The grace GLORIOUS" is easier to grasp. This is the law: The higher the rank, the greater the importance, the heavier the emphasis. So that, in "the Lord's DAY" we are compelled to reduce and soften the emphasis on the word "Lord's." Because it occurs before "day" instead of after it (as it ordinarily should be) it still retains some emphasis, which we have indicated by putting it in italics.

The second difference joins its voice with the first in bidding us to pay attention to the DAY rather than to its Lord, as we have been accustomed to do.

The third difference is in the order of the words. If the whole sentence read:

"I have come to be, in spirit, in the day of the Lord,"

instead of

"I have come to be, in spirit, in the Lord's Day,"

then the last word would be "LORD." As it stands the last word is "DAY." First things are important. So are things last. He is the First and the Last. In Gal.2:19 the order of the words is "CHRIST together-with-have-I-been-crucified: yet I live; no longer I, but in me lives CHRIST." As has been remarked, "Christ is first and Christ is last and 'not I' fills in between." So here. By relieving "Lord" of its striking situation at the end of the sentence and giving DAY that prominent place, once more we are impressed with the fact that the Spirit is not using some stereotyped human phrase but is adapting His own powerful and flexible phrase "the day of the Lord" to its new and special duty of informing us that now, at last, the DAY itself has come!

It seems hardly necessary to add that all these changes do not affect the sense in the least. "Man's day" and "the day of man" are the same day. "Lot's wife" and "the wife of Lot" (as it is literally) is the same wife. "God's house" (Gen.28:22) means just the same to us as "the house of God" (Gen.28:17). "The Lord's people" (1 Sam.2:24) are the same as the "people of the Lord" (Judges 5:11). "Christ's gospel" (2 Cor.2:12) and "Christ's sufferings" (1 Peter 4:13) have never been taken for anything but "the gospel of Christ" and "the sufferings of Christ." In fact, it is an axiom in Scripture that when God uses the same words He means the same things. The grammar, the rank of words, and their order are exceedingly important, but they cannot introduce a radical change of sense.

So then, we conclude that while "the Lord's DAY" and "the day of the LORD" are identical, the Spirit has used the one which perfectly fits this context, so as to help rather than burden the even flow of thought; so as to give an agreeable and satisfactory answer to the questions which absorbs us: When?

The Hebrew language has no adjective "Lord's." "The Lord's messenger" (Haggai 1:13) and "the messenger of the Lord" (Mal.2: 17) are two translations of the same Hebrew phrase. Likewise "the captain of the host of the Lord" (Joshua 5:14) and "the captain of the Lord's host" (Joshua 5:15) represent one and the same Hebrew expression. So that to translate the phrase "the Lord's day" into Hebrew one is obliged to say "the day of the Lord." Salkinson's Hebrew New Testament translates it "the Day of the Lord" Yom haadon. Some modern languages are, in this respect, like the Hebrew. French and Italian, for instance, have no adjective "Lord's," and the Greek of Rev.1:10 should have been translated "the day of the Lord." The translators, however, have colored the text by the prevailing misconception, rendering the Lord's Day by "jour de Dimanche" and "giorno della Domenica." The Russian and Old Slavonic versions have "Sunday," although both languages have the adjective "Lord's," and both translate the Hebrew Yom Yehovah "the Lord's Day" and "the Day of the Lord."

The first sensation which greeted John, in His new condition was a loud voice. Loud as it was, we may well believe that he recognized the accents of His Lord. He was one of His sheep and all His sheep know His voice. What a thrill it must have given him to hear once more the voice that swayed the multitudes and stilled the surging waves, that calmly commanded the dead damsel to arise, and shouted to decaying Lazarus, "Come forth!" This is the voice that all that are in the graves shall hear, and death will have no power to withstand its force. As it was with John, our first intimation of His blessed presence will be His voice. We have never heard Him, even as we have never seen Him, but we shall need no interpreter to tell us Whose voice it is! No other sound can have the transforming power of that voice! It will not only rouse the sleeping dead but will give immortality to us, who are alive at His presence. We shall be changed and, like John, shall be caught up to meet Him. But, unlike John, it will not be in spirit only, but with bodies transfigured, glorified.

He is commanded to write the vision on a scroll and send it to the seven ecclesias. Much has been said about this simple command. In early times it caused considerable prejudice against the whole scroll because, in at least one instance, there was no ecclesia in the city mentioned to which to send the message. But the real difficulty lies deeper. The succeeding letters are suitable only to ecclesias in the day of the Lord. Why send them to those for whom they were not intended? The whole matter becomes exceedingly simple if we remember that John is given this command when he himself was, in spirit, in the day of the Lord. Hence the vision and the seven epistles gave no application to the past, and far less to the present. No one will question that, should such ecclesias be established in Asia Minor in the future they would receive these epistles. This is the only satisfactory solution.

The "application" of these epistles to the present administration has been a powerful factor in the adulteration of the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus. We cannot follow John into the day of the Lord without our "falling out of grace." These seven letters find their fulfillment on earth at a time when we will find ourselves in the heavens.

The historical interpretation, which assigns each of these locations to a period of church history, is full of interesting coincidences. These depend upon the fact that the course of evil is similar at all times. But the general agreement is not nearly great enough to warrant an interpretation which has not a single hint to support it in the text. There is no suggestion that these ecclesias denote different eras, and the symbolism is against the thought that they appear upon the scene one after another. They are all seen at once. The order is not that of time, hence we are not warranted in introducing this idea, no matter how attractive it may seem. Whatever may be the period in which these ecclesias find their place, they are contemporary as to time, unless we boldly step outside what is revealed. Such an image as the seven golden lampstands becomes incongruous if we start with one lamp, and increase the number, or take some away before all are in place. Such an action is not contained in the symbolism and should not be vital to the interpretation. The ecclesias are literal, and not successive epochs of church history. They belong in the era of God's indignation, and must not darken the present administration of most marvelous, unmingled grace.

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